Originally published on transportfutures.co
Last week, 28 - 29 June 2017, transport planning in the UK had its big annual bash, the Transport Practitioners Meeting, where for the second year running it found itself in the underrated Midlands city of Nottingham. The great and the good of transport planning where there (although notably only one person who I saw from the Department for Transport), as well as a great mix of graduates, researchers, old hands, and young upstarts.
Personally, it was a fantastic, and tiring, event. On the tiring front, chairing one opening plenary session, taking part in the other, and running two workshops takes it out of you (my HUGE thanks to Teresa Jolley of DEFT153, and Jess Everett of Buckinghamshire County Council — without whom both workshops would not have happened). As for it being fantastic, that was not down to personal satisfaction. It was fantastic because my takeaway from the event was that transport planning is getting its mojo back, and there is a huge opportunity now to shape its future.
My first reflection was how the event compared to previous years events. The energy and vigour of the event was manifest throughout all of the sessions that I managed to sneak into (sadly not as many as I hoped that I would). And it sustained itself from 9:15am on Day 1 to 5pm on Day Two.
This reflected itself in the quality of the debate that took place. A mixture of new fields, old principles, different approaches, and compelling conference themes came together very well.
This will not ensure that transport planning is adaptable to the future. New approaches need support, time, resource, and patience to become embedded into the collective whole. Not everything will make it into practice, but if the energy and vigorousness of the debate that was had continues, that in itself provides much needed fuel to the adaptability that the sector needs to be successful in the future.
My second reflection was that, throughout the presentations on the two days, something that had been kicking around in my mind for many months suddenly began to crystallise. It was something that every presentation that I went to touched upon in some way, even if it never mentioned it explicitly.
There are numerous examples of truly excellent projects being delivered by transport planning, many of them presented over those two days. There are also examples of excellent policies in place . But there are relatively few examples of both in the same place. Why?
You can throw money and people power at it - even that doesn’t always result in success. But if you don’t have either, you need to think about service design. Or how you structure your whole means of delivery around users, and not process or operations.
In transport, we quickly move from policy writing to delivery. To deliver ‘the thing’ that we said we would. A new bus service, a new transport scheme, public realm improvements, whatever. Service design does that, but intervenes at critical points to ensure its design around user requirements.This is not about restructuring Councils or whole frameworks of delivery — that I have long since stopped caring about — but ensuring user centricity at policy, project, and translatory stages.
But my number one takeaway from the event was that of the need for transport planning to be bold. Much of the debate in the plenaries focussed on two critical, but interrelated matters:
● A compelling vision of the future, where transport realises its value in being a platform for better societal outcomes, as opposed to purely economic ones;
● The confidence to sell such a vision, and of the value that good transport planning creates, to those currently dictating the future of transport and our cities.
Further reflecting upon this in the last few days, it struck me that something was missing from this. There is a need to articulate the bridge between these two, and that bridge is boldness.
Boldness is about putting your whole self in a situation, and immersing yourself in it. It involves being committed to something far bigger than you. It is about staking your reputation, finances, safety, your future on something that you think is right even if everyone else is saying that you are wrong. It is about having skin in the game.
It can also come from anywhere. It can come from frustration at the world, inspiration from others. It certainly needs support — not only for others to back you up, but to know that if it all goes wrong, people will be there to support you and not just say “I told you so.”
So that has led me to think, what if being bold was an explicit value of transport planning? What if it was ingrained in the very value set of transport planning? What if transport planners moved away from the doing the bare minimum to meet the client or the appraisal method? What sort of freedom was this give the profession? What new skills would it open up? What sort of transport planners would we become?
In conclusion, like any good event I emerged from TPM enthused, positive, and with plenty of trains of thought set in motion. The future of transport planning is looking bright, and i cannot wait to help shape it.